Today's Headlines and Commentary

Cody M. Poplin
Friday, September 12, 2014, 2:54 PM
The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military has began setting in motion an expanded campaign against ISIS militants that will include airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, as well as military training for fighters in both countries. Defense officials said that operations will proceed gradually over the next several months, with the first step to build intelligence capabilities in Syria and to ensure U.S.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military has began setting in motion an expanded campaign against ISIS militants that will include airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, as well as military training for fighters in both countries. Defense officials said that operations will proceed gradually over the next several months, with the first step to build intelligence capabilities in Syria and to ensure U.S. military advisers are in necessary positions in Iraq. For the first time, U.S. military advisers will move beyond the operations centers and into Iraqi divisions, directly planning missions and executing operations. Air strikes will likely target logistics hubs, training camps, and other high value locations. News broke yesterday that retired Marine General John Allen will lead the broad international effort to rollback and ultimately destroy the Islamic State. According to the Associated Press, General Allen will be tasked with coordinating the efforts of nearly 40 nations who have agreed to contribute, at least in some way, to the effort. In the Washington Post, Dan Lamothe explains why General Allen is the “logical point man in the fight,” suggesting that his appointment is likely to be “greeted warmly at home and abroad.” In late August, General Allen published an op-ed in Defense One entitled “Destroy the Islamic State Now.” President Obama’s strategy also relies on Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops against ISIS. However, the New York Times reports that those Syrian rebels have loyalties that are hard to decipher, even within the groups, where infighting has been common. The Times explains that there are currently hundreds of militant groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad and one another, and unlike ISIS, these groups do not share the same command structure. Indeed, the President’s proposal to arm and train the “moderate” militias in the region has left many from his own party scratching their heads. Politico reports that a number of senators from both parties have raised concerns about the viability of plans to arm moderate rebels, with several senators saying that, at this time, they would not support the proposal. Even so, the New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a quick vote, while House Republican leaders will call members back to Washington a day early next week in order to authorize the military to train Syrian rebels. More on authorizations below. BBC also brings us news that the CIA has tripled its estimate of the number of fighters under the ISIS banner, bringing the estimated number of militants up to 31,000. In the Wall Street Journal, Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security explains how “ISIS is recruiting America’s ‘Jihadi Cool’ crowd.” Today, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Turkey in an attempt to push Turkish leaders to support military action against ISIS, the BBC reports. Yesterday, ten Arab countries agreed to support Washington in the fight against ISIS, but Turkey--despite its attendance at the meeting---was not on the final communique. Indeed, the general tone of allies in the region has been one of reluctancenotes the New York Times. Except, perhaps, from Syria, who offered the most full-throated support of American intervention of any actor in the region, where the deputy foreign minister said that his government had “no reservations” about U.S. airstrikes since the two countries are “fighting the same enemy,” but cautioned that arming the rebels would be a mistake. However, Russia, one of Syria’s strongest supporters, strongly objected to the U.S. strikes suggesting that military action without a U.N. Security Council resolution “would be an act of aggression and flagrant violation of international law.” Al Arabiya has more. In Lawfare, Ashley Deeks lays out the possible U.S. international legal theory for ISIS strikes in Syria. The Washington Post tells us that the hunt for al-Baghdadi and other senior ISIS leaders is on following President Obama’s authorization to target and kill individual Islamic State leaders. However, Clint Hinote explains that targeting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may not have its desired effect and would hardly prove decisive in the battle against ISIS. Even so, Foreign Policy's Shane Harris offers that if the United States is to catch Baghdadi, it will have to rely heavily on Jordan, whose spies have proved pivotal in U.S. efforts to hunt down its most dangerous enemies. In a bid to be the “good jihadists,” Islamists rebels from al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Nusra Front have released 45 United Nations peacekeepers. The Wall Street Journal has the full story. We promised you more on the AUMF debate, and boy do we have it. The Wall Street Journal details how Obama’s fight against ISIS has catalyzed a serious debate over War Powers, breaking down several arguments offered here at Lawfare and at other legal blogs. Writing in Politico Magazine, Mary Ellen O’Connell says that the war against ISIS is illegal under international law. The New York Times editorial board calls Congress’s dereliction of constitutional duty, its authority to declare war, “outrageous.” They suggest that “by avoiding responsibility, they allow President Obama free rein to set a dangerous precedent that will last well past this particular military campaign.” Even so, Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said yesterday that there was a growing momentum to hold a larger war debate after election in November. The Washington Post reports that the House Minority Whip suggested a “two-step process:” first, approving a proposal to allow the military to train and arm Syrian rebels; and second, using the lame-duck session after elections to debate and potentially approve a resolution that would provide clear war language that sets new boundaries for U.S. military force against ISIS. Jack is back in Lawfare with new reflections on the Administration’s legal rationale for invoking the 2001 AUMF in the campaign against ISIS, saying that while he is unconvinced by the Obama team’s argument, he does not believe that military action is unconstitutional as it accords with the President’s Article II powers. Over at Just Security, Marty Lederman offers his own reactions to the 2001 AUMF theory. Finally, in the National Interest, Robert Golan-Vilella argues that the President’s AUMF theory will serve to “weaken the already-weak role of Congress in issues of war and peace.” A Chinese court has sentenced three people to death and sentenced a 4th to life in prison for executing a railway station knife attack that killed 29 people and injured 141 in Yunnan province in March. BBC has more on the attack, and the convictions, which include charges of organizing and leading a terror group. Reuters has a special report detailing a systematic effort by Moscow to silence dissent as Russian soldiers return to families in coffins. In what would seem an understatement, Reuters notes, “the fact that Russian soldiers have died in a war in which they officially have no involvement is a problem in Russia.” The issue is compounded by popular revulsion towards an outright invasion of Ukraine; while 57 percent of Russians support the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, a pro-Kremlin pollster found that only 5 percent support a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Associated Press reports that Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia rebels have exchanged 67 prisoners captured during fighting in eastern Ukraine, as part of the cease-fire deal. Even as the ceasefire shakily holds, President Obama announced Thursday a new round of joint U.S. and European sanctions on Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors. The BBC reports that the sanctions went into force today, preventing loans for five major state banks and restricting EU business with oil and defense firms. With NATO estimating that over 1,000 Russian troops remain in Ukraine, the measures are seen as a way to hold pressure over Moscow, leveraging the potential that they will be lifted if the ceasefire holds. The Ebola crisis in Liberia continues to deepen, leading the Washington Post to ask if the disease could lead to the country’s collapse. On Tuesday, Liberia’s defense minister told the U.N. Security Council, “Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence,” adding that “the deadly Ebola virus has caused a disruption of the normal function of our state.” In Nigeria, an enemy that the government can see continues to threaten the stability of the state. Reuters reports that the Nigerian government forces are currently engaged with Boko Haram insurgents just 20 miles outside the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri. Regional leaders called for military reinforcements yesterday, saying that Islamist fighters had surrounded the city of over 600,000. The Economist charts the deadly rise of Boko Haram. As fervor wanes, Reuters reports that Pakistani protesters want to go home, but that protest organizers are refusing to return their national identity cards in order to prevent them from leaving. Some protesters have admitted to receiving 300-400 rupees per day for taking part in the uprising that began in August. Al Jazeera brings us news that al Qaeda’s new branch in South Asia may have already struck - the group has claimed responsibility for a raid on a Karachi naval yard that killed one sailor and three attackers. The Pakistani Taliban has also claimed responsibility for the attack. Yesterday, a trove of documents from the In Re Directives litigation were declassified and released. Wells brought us the documents on Lawfare, while today, the New York Times reports that the federal government threatened Yahoo with fines of $250,000 a day if it did not comply with a FISC order to turn over demanded data. The Washington Post also carries the story. The Guardian brings us a report by the University of Edinburgh that says independent Scotland would struggle to manage oversight of intelligence, suggesting "the current configuration of the Scottish parliament and its rather subservient relationship to the executive may compound the general difficulties posed by democratic oversight of secretive intelligence and security agencies.” McClatchy reports that a federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government does not have to disclose the cost of a secret Guantanamo prison called “Camp 7.” A few things for your weekend: Looking for something to read this weekend? Well, look no further ‘cause we’ve got you covered with Cyborgs! Vice and Bloomberg cover Ben and Jane’s latest paper on the law and policy implications of of our increasingly data and technology driven lives as “adolescent cyborgs.” You can read the full paper here. Looking for something to watch? Why not Iran’s awesomely bad “Top Gun” knockoff? War is Boring has your review. What would you do if a squad of 12 U.S. helicopters touched down in your back yard? Well, if you're this Polish village, you “thank God it was the Americans” and take some photos for your Instagram with a shiney Chinook. Finally, India is currently investigating how a deity, Hanuman, was issued an ID card complete with fingerprints and biometric scans. The BBC reports. Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

Cody Poplin is a student at Yale Law School. Prior to law school, Cody worked at the Brookings Institution and served as an editor of Lawfare. He graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012 with degrees in Political Science & Peace, War, and Defense.

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